This year’s recipients of the Arbos awards not only encompass all facets of education, but they also prove the adage that every educator brings something different to the profession, even if their overall aim is unquestionably similar.
Sonja Susut and Shelly Tootoosis were both honoured for their contributions to the professional organization, while Joan Hill received an award for her contributions to education and the teaching profession.
Referred to as a persistent advocate for the needs of teachers, Susut has throughout her career served the membership of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation with visionary and faithful leadership.
Being the longest-serving STF Executive member in the history of the Federation, she devoted 16 years to being a wise and considerate decision maker for the teachers of Saskatchewan. Through it all, Susut’s focus was on improving the teaching and learning environment for members.
Her leadership was also felt at the local level where she served as a councillor for 24 years, on her local association executive for 28 years and as local association president for 15 years.
Her leadership was critical during the 2006 amalgamation of seven different local associations to form the Prairie South Teachers’ Association. As president of the newly formed local body, Susut led a group of teachers who gave endless hours to bring these groups together, and to create a new identity for teachers at the local level.
With 26 years of experience on the Local Implementation Negotiation Committee, including 12 years as chairperson, and in addition to her experience at the provincial bargaining table, Susut was a steadying force who was able to use her leadership experience to offer insight and guidance to her peers as they made the sometimes difficult decisions necessary in governance.
Beyond her governance roles, Susut was a dedicated classroom teacher who delighted in inspiring students to enjoy the study of history and science. In fact, some of the most rewarding moments of her career came as a result of extracurricular activities such as the after-school and weekend hiking club for grades 4 and 5 students, which she led for 20 years.
In 2000, she took part as the STF representative in the professional development program of the All India Primary Teachers’ Federation. It proved to be a transformative experience, as Susut was inspired by the dedication of the teachers with whom she worked. This experience also helped to provide a new perspective on teaching and learning here in Saskatchewan.
Susut has helped to create a vision for the Federation that all teachers can stand behind and help to advance for the betterment of the profession and publicly funded public education in the province.
For all of her life, Tootoosis, a member of the Cowessess First Nation in the Treaty 4 area, has endeavoured to live a life with purpose. Through her experiences she grew to understand how the inequities she and her family faced were rooted in a deep colonial history. It is within this context that Tootoosis was compelled to serve Indigenous people through the profession of teaching.
As an Indigenous female educator, Tootoosis attributes her need to serve Indigenous communities through her role as a teacher to her parents. Her passion for learning and the need to achieve justice was passed on to her by her father, David Agecoutay. She saw him speaking out against many injustices and working hard to ensure she didn’t have to experience the same injustices he did as a First Nations man. She credits her mother, Marjorie Agecoutay, for encouraging her to always speak her mind and to do so in a respectful manner.
Tootoosis began her service to education as a teacher’s assistant at the age of 18. Her teacher colleagues recognized her immense potential as an educator and encouraged her to become a teacher.
Following 15 years as a classroom teacher, she worked as a consultant for school divisions developing First Nations and Métis curriculum and resources. She worked with Elders to develop prekindergarten to Grade 8 First Nations and Métis curriculum and also with Cree language teachers to develop resources. She also secured provincial funding to begin integration of First Nations and Métis content in the Brightwater Science, Environmental and Indigenous Learning Centre. In addition, Tootoosis created a simulated residential school because she felt she had a responsibility as an educator to bring those experiences to the attention of students.
In 2004, she joined the staff of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. In her role as executive assistant from 2004-11 and as Associate Executive Director from 2011-16, Tootoosis led a host of social justice-related education initiatives and worked tirelessly at the provincial, national and international levels on many projects.
Her career has been about ensuring that Indigenous people and their needs are reflected and responded to in the education system. In doing this, she has continually stated that all levels of the education system have a responsibility to ensure this is achieved.
In various roles, she worked to bring the issues associated with the colonial experience to the forefront in an authentic and respectful manner.
Throughout her 32 years of teaching, Joan Hill has been a shining light in the profession and the positive effect she has had on those around her is undeniable.
She began her career with the Lloydminster Catholic School Division in 1981, teaching Grade 3 and physical education for kindergarten to Grade 7 students.
For the past 16 years, Hill has served as a Grade 5 classroom teacher at St. Mary’s Elementary School in Lloydminster. She has devoted her time to numerous school activities including coaching soccer, volleyball, basketball, badminton, and track and field.
Hill is someone who teaches with creativity and strives to impart a sense of wonder and awe in her students. Whether that is taking her students on an annual field trip to Edmonton to take part in a mock legislative assembly, or transforming her classroom into the land of Narnia for a novel study of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Hill’s focus is always on instilling in her students a love of learning by giving them varied opportunities and experiences.
Over the years Hill has become known within her school for producing beautiful drama productions and Christmas concerts.
These events illustrate her willingness to give of her time and talent, but also demonstrate the ways in which she is able to reach out to students
and the community in a unique and captivating way, even inviting younger students and their parents to attend performances and taking the time to teach them about the lessons contained within the play.
Hill’s volunteer work in the community is a further demonstration of her commitment to helping others without expectation of reward. This volunteer spirit spills over into the classroom as Hill strives to associate the school with worthy events in the community, and motivate students to be citizens who are actively engaged in their school, community and world.
Throughout her career, Hill has demonstrated a genuine passion for teaching and a selfless desire to enrich the lives of her students, her colleagues and her community.